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Under international law, a refugee is defined as a person who is outside his/her country of nationality or habitual residence; has a well-founded fear of persecution because of his/her race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group or political opinion; and is unable or unwilling to avail himself/herself of the protection of that country, or to return there, for fear of persecution. They are distinguished from economic migrants who have voluntarily left their country of origin for economic reasons and will not be persecuted if returned.

The United Nations defines as refugee as someone who was forced to leave their country "owing to a well-founded fear of being persecuted for reasons of race, religion, nationality, membership in a particular social group, or political opinion, is outside the country of his nationality, and is unable to or, owing to such fear, is unwilling to avail himself of the protection of that country."

Under the 1951 Convention on Refugees and 1967 Protocol, a nation must grant asylum to refugees and cannot forcibly return a refugee to their nation of origin. Refugees are also the subject of the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees (UNHCR). Many nations routinely ignore this treaty.

The United Nations created a second definition of the term "refugee" in regards to Palestinian Arabs, and Palestinian Arabs alone. For this group only, an Arab is officially considered a Palestinian refugee even if that person had recently immigrated to the British mandate of Palestine in the last two years before 1948.

"Palestine refugees are persons whose normal place of residence was Palestine between June 1946 and May 1948, who lost their homes and means of livelihood as a result of the 1948 Arab-Israeli conflict". (Source: The United Nations Relief and Works Agency for Palestine Refugees in the Near East UNRWA)

Israeli and Jewish groups hold that it is unfair to have a unique definition of refugee for Palestinians that effectively allows all recent Arab immigrants to have the same rights as indigenous peoples of the area. There is a separate article on Jewish refugees.

See also: boat people[?]

Critique of second definition of refugee (http://www.netanyahu.org/brieffacabor)

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